The Coast News Group
Sea Notes

Stand-up paddlers steal surfers’ waves

I first saw Stand-Up-Paddle (SUP) surfing in Waikiki when Hawaiian beach boy Bobby Achoy used one to take photos of tourists in the late ‘70s. Since then, Laird Hamilton and a few others have launched this sport within a sport, and with it some controversy at our local surf breaks.
Cardiff looked good the other morning — a moderate steep, angled swell filling in the reef, glassy, just a few out. Still, I had heard another spot up the coast was firing so I raced down to check it out. When I got there it looked questionable, but empty, so I paddled out to find that it was nearly unsurfable. Cold and wet, I drove back to Cardiff to find that the crowd had more than doubled in my absence. Still, it wasn’t bad for a sunny weekend morning. By the time I got out the crowd had doubled again — 10-foot-plus extra long boards, and half a dozen stand-up paddlers clogging south peak alone.
Boards and bodies outnumbered waves 10-to-one by the time I made it outside, so I abandoned the fiberglass jungle in order to catch a few leftovers inside. A decent shoulder-high wave approached, I spun around only to see a stand-up paddler stroking frantically from outside, after he had already caught every single set wave. He caught the wave and rode it to shore. No big deal — I’ll paddle down, farther south, to the beach break. There I sat, waiting for a wave with a handful of beginners who also hoped for the leftovers that were really nothing more than crumbs. Looking out, I saw that the numbers of stand-up paddlers getting all the sets, two of them in particular, had gone into a feeding frenzy, at the expense of the wave-starved — never giving a break to the few hot kids trying to ride boards in the sub-six range.
It had been a hard work week and I, like many others in the water, wanted nothing more than to release some tension, get wet, ride a few waves and go home to my wife and cats to wash the car. As I sat there content with the little leftover section, two stand up paddlers moved into position and proceeded to grab the few remaining scraps. I paddled back into the lineup where the process was repeated half a dozen times, and I finally found a tiny inside wave to ride to the beach, alone.
On the sand I ran into friends of mine Dave and Rhonda Daum — fine people and longtime friends who own and operate King’s Paddle Sports, with the stated goal of “creating the world’s finest performing stand up paddleboards.” (Judging by them and those riding King’s boards, I would say they are well on their way to achieving their goal.) Still, in my frustration, I let Dave know that some of his friends were behaving badly, even though I realize that’s not his fault.
Many of the SUP crew were smiling as they rode, never realizing that their joy was built on frustration. My frustration in the realization that I could no longer ride the wave that breaks two blocks from my house. Now, I realize that riders of SUPs will think this is nothing but whining, but I wonder how they would feel if they went home with one tiny wave to show for the day, at their home break? Or, what if 10 people they had never seen before paddled out on 20-foot canoes, or on motorized vehicles that could catch waves before they even thought about it? Surfing is supposed to be fun for everyone — not the select few using superior paddle power to catch everything in the ocean.
Numerous other breaks have banned stand-up paddle from the lineup for the above reasons. Unless the few who want it all control themselves that will happen at Cardiff. (There is already at least one petition.) My hope is that stand-up paddlers continue to surf Cardiff and that the surfers mange themselves without regulation. Then again, it would be nice to ride a few waves.
Happy New Year!